Solar firms heating up in the Valley

TULARE COUNTY – More renewable power will be flowing to community-based power providers across the state from new solar and wind farms heading to construction in the San Joaquin Valley. These are typically new customers for Valley solar and wind developers who in the past had to depend on power purchases from reluctant utility companies.

Just announced- the East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) board of directors has approved two power purchase agreements for a combined 157.5 megawatts from new wind and solar facilities, along with 30 megawatts of battery energy storage.

EBCE, a Community Choice energy Aggregation program serving most of Alameda County, approved the following contracts: a 20-year agreement to purchase 57.5 megawatts of wind from the Altamont Winds project in Alameda County and a 20-year agreement to purchase 100 megawatts of solar and 30 megawatts of energy storage from the Sonrisa Solar Park in Fresno County. In addition they have announced a preliminary deal to buy 56MW of solar energy from a proposed project in Tulare County called Luciana Solar.

Proposed new Central Valley utility-sale solar projects are more frequently selling their power to nearby Community Choice energy aggregators versus power sales to traditional utilities like SCE or PG&E. There are now 19 not-for-profit Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs operating in California and the market is growing as more communities are deciding to adopt this form of electricity distribution. Hanford for example, is considering becoming a CCA.

In this case, Alameda-based EBCE is a not-for-profit public agency that operates a Community Choice Energy program for Alameda County and eleven incorporated cities, serving more than 550,000 residential and commercial customers throughout the county.

Another example of the trend, just last year Japanese-owned Solar Frontier Americas was the winning bidder in two processes  acquiring a not-yet-built 56 megawatt project in Tulare County called Luciana and the proposed 210 MW Mustang Two solar project in Kings County from Canadian Solar’s development business Recurrent Energy. The deal was announced in December.

Located on 1,400 acres in Kings County, California, the Mustang Two project is expected to be operational in 2020. The project will then be operated by Solar Frontier Americas’ growing independent power producer business. Once this project is operational, the energy generated by the solar power facility will be split between two long-term power purchase agreements: Peninsula Clean Energy (the community choice energy agency which serves San Mateo County) is contracted to receive 100 MWac, and the Modesto Irrigation District will acquire 50 MWac. The combined energy generation will power 37,500 homes with clean electricity.

These CCAs, and other non-profit community-based energy providers including the East Bay group EBCE are eager for renewable energy their customers want as California moves to 100% renewables by 2045.

Wind farm to replace 569 older turbines

The Alameda group also looks to phase out fossil fuel power plants and older renewable technology. The Summit Wind Project located in  Altamont Pass near Livermore is located within EBCE’s territory and reflects the community choice provider’s commitment to invest in local, clean energy resources and deliver local benefits they say. The project will entail repowering (replacing) a former Altamont Pass wind farm which consisted of older less efficient wind turbines with ones that are state-of-the-art. San Diego-based Salk LLC will build the new wind farm and sell the energy to the East Bay customers. The 55-MW wind farm is just 35 miles outside Oakland.

Completion and operation of the Summit Wind Project is planned for late 2020. The repowering project will replace 569 one-hundred-kilowatt turbines with 23 modern turbines. Once completed, the repowered wind farm will generate more than 60 percent of its power for Alameda County during peak hours, including the afternoon and high-demand summer months, producing enough clean energy on average to power about 30,000 homes per year.

“More and more, communities want to aggressively address climate change and reducing the use of fossil fuels in our power mix is a big part of that. EBCE is adding new renewable energy generation capacity to the grid that will, in time, serve to phase out our reliance on fossil fuel while also stabilizing our energy costs,” said County Supervisor and EBCE Board Chair, Scott Haggerty.

Renewable energy will also replace fossil fuel now in the heart of Oakland. On June 5, the EBC board approved a contract with Vistra Energy to receive resource adequacy capacity from a 20 MW battery energy storage project that is currently planned to be built as a  partial replacement for an aging, fossil fuel-fired power plant located in the heart of Oakland.

A boom in Valley-based projects

Spokesperson for the Alameda group Annie Henderson says demand for renewable power “is just exploding much faster than state mandates” require because of the proliferation of community-based power providers from LA to the Bay Area  “It is happening much faster than before” she says, noting her Alameda group will be announcing more power purchases from other new San Joaquin Valley solar projects in July.

The Alameda board also gave a green light to a 56MW solar PPA with Solar Frontier Americas for Luciana Solar to be located in Tulare County. The project will be built in southern Tulare County located near Richgrove along Highway 65 says county planner Mike Washam, new to an already operational 20MW solar farm.

Next door in Fresno County the Sonrisa Solar Park project will produce 100MW of solar energy and 30MW of energy storage for  a partnership of Spanish and Portuguese-based utilities who are busy doing renewables in the U.S.

The Sonrisa Solar Park project now owned by EDPR will be located near Tranquility in Fresno County. Construction on the Sonrisa Project will begin in December 2021 and be operational in 2022. It will be EDPR’s first large scale renewable project with storage.

EDPR is already one of the world’s largest wind energy producers and also wants to develop wind energy off the California coast. The company’s footprint in the state includes three phases of the Rising Tree Wind Farm in Kern County as well as two phases of the Lone Valley Solar Park in San Bernardino County.  These projects produce enough clean electricity to annually power more than 101,000 average California homes.

The combination of solar with energy storage system was designed to increase efficiency and provide greater balance in energy supply, says the company.

 

Solar firms heating up in the Valley, by John Lindt, The Sun Gazette, July 10, 2019.

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